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PASSIVITY and AGGRESSION in EUROPE, to 1936 (1 of 3)

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Passivity and Aggression in Europe, to 1936

Voices in Britain and the United States against War | Hitler, Mussolini and the British, 1935-36 | Fear of the Left in France

Voices in Britain and the United States against War

Many in Great Britain were looking back upon the horrors of World War I. All Quiet on the Western Front, by Erich Maria Remarque, had been published in 1929, and in Britain the book was a sensation. There were other widely-read books on the horrors of World War I, including Vera Brittain's memoirs of nursing during the war, Testament of Youth. The British were also reading about Gandhi, who was frequently in the news concerning civil disobedience campaigns in India, and some were looking with hope toward Gandhi's strategies as an alternative to war.

Albert Einstein also saw some hope in Gandhi's civil disobedience. In a much-quoted speech that he gave in New York in September 1930, he declared that pacifists should stop talking and replace their words with deeds. He said that if only two percent of those assigned to perform military service refused to fight, governments would be powerless. They would not, he declared, send such a large number to jail.

The peace movement in Britain was growing, joined by various professionals: teachers, doctors, psychologists, lawyers, prominent people of faith, trade unionists, socialists and followers of Tolstoy. A peace enthusiast from California sent to London a book sixteen feet wide which he wished to have driven around Europe on a flatbed truck, hoping that the book would be filled with declarations for peace from every prominent man and woman in Europe.

In September 1931, when Japan's Kwantung army went on the offensive in Manchuria, a pacifist leader in England, Maude Royden, stated to her Christian congregation her intent to enroll people to put their bodies between the Japanese and Chinese armies. In January 1932, when Japanese troops were sent to Shanghai, a group of eight hundred British pacifists enrolled to put their bodies between the Japanese army and the Chinese. But the Japanese took control of Shanghai within a month, again accomplishing their aims before the pacifists could deploy their force.

When Hitler came to power in January 1933, Britons became more concerned about the likelihood of war. The question of war was debated on university campuses in both Britain and the United States. In the US in 1933, Brown University polled 21,725 students from sixty-five US colleges, and the poll found 8,415 who declared themselves pacifists, 7,221 who believed that the only justification for their nation bearing arms would be it having been invaded, and only 6,089 who declared that they would fight another war if the government ordered them to do so. note39

In February 1933, students at Oxford University debated the question that "this House will in no circumstance fight for king and country." At the conclusion of the debate, 275 undergraduates voted against fighting for king and country, and 153 voted for fighting for king and country. Newspapers described the debate, and many in Britain were dismayed.

The controversy over this debate inspired another debate at Oxford, with Winston Churchill's son, Randolph, leading the debate against the pacifists. The pacifists won by a larger margin: 750 to 138. Similar debates at the London School of Economics resulted in a pacifist resolution that was supported unanimously. Aberystwyth University in Wales voted 186 to 99 for pacifism. Manchester University voted for pacifism 371 to 196. And students in Canada and New Zealand voted with the Oxford pacifists.

Hitler was watching, and, contemptuous of pacifism, he was encouraged. Winston Churchill was outraged.


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